Pimp My Scope

Most of us have heard some form of the adage, “You can buy cheaper, but you’ll never pay less.” It means that cheaper products ultimately do not stand up to the needs of their superior counterparts. Hackers love to prove this aphorism wrong by applying inexpensive upgrades to inexpensive tools to fill up a feature-rich tool bag. Take [The Thought Emporium] who has upgraded an entry-level microscope into one capable of polarized and dark-field microscopy. You can also see the video after the break.

Functionally, polarized images can reveal hidden features of things like striations in crystals or stress lines in hot glue threads. Dark-field microscopy is like replacing the normally glaring white background with a black background, and we here at Hackaday approve of that décor choice. Polarizing filters sheets are not expensive and installation can be quick, depending on your scope. Adding a dark-field filter could cost as much as a dime.

Like most mods, the greatest investment will be your time. That investment will pay back immediately by familiarizing you with your tools and their workings. In the long-run, you will have a tool with greater power.

Simple mods like the light source can be valuable, but upgrades are not limited to optical scopes, an electron microscope was brought back to life with Arduino

Continue reading “Pimp My Scope”

This Dust Collector Will Blow You Away.

As [Marius Hornberger] was working in his woodshop, a thunderous bang suddenly rocked the space. A brief search revealed the blower for the dust collector had shifted several inches despite being stoutly fastened down. Turns out, the blower had blown itself up when one of the impeller fins came loose. Time to revise and build a bigger, better dust collector!

[Hornberger] is thorough in describing his process, the video series chronicles where he went astray in his original design and how he’s gone about improving on those elements. For instance, the original impeller had six fins which meant fewer points to bear the operating stresses as well as producing an occasionally uncomfortable drone. MDF wasn’t an ideal material choice here either, contributing to the failure of the part.

Continue reading “This Dust Collector Will Blow You Away.”

Filter your Pi and be a Responsible Pirate

At this point it’s pretty well-known that you can tack a long wire to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO, install some software, and you’ve got yourself the worlds easiest pirate FM radio station. We say that it’s a “pirate” station because, despite being ridiculously easy to do, broadcasting on these frequencies without a license is illegal. Even if you had a license, the Raspberry Pi with a dangling bit of wire will be spewing out all kinds of unintentional noise, making it a no-go for any legitimate purposes.

Unfiltered output of Pi broadcasting on 107.3 MHz

In an effort to address that issue, [Naich] has written up a couple posts on his blog which not only discuss why the Pi is such a poor transmitter, but shows how you can build a filter to help improve the situation. You’ll still be a lawless pirate if you’re transmitting on FM stations with your Pi, but you won’t be a filthy lawless pirate.

In the first post, [Naich] shows us exactly what’s coming out of the wire antenna when the Pi is broadcasting some tunes on the default 107.3 MHz, and it ain’t pretty. The Pi is blasting out signals up and down the spectrum from 50 MHz to 800 MHz, and incredibly, these harmonics are in some cases stronger than the intentional broadcast. Definitely not an ideal transmitter.

[Naich] then goes on to show how you can build a DIY filter “hat” for the Pi that not only cuts down a lot of the undesirable chatter, but even boosts the intended signal a bit. The design is surprisingly simple, only costs a few bucks in components, and conveniently is powered directly from the Pi’s GPIO. It even gives you a proper antenna jack instead of a bare wire wound around a header pin.

We’ve seen plenty of projects utilizing the Raspberry Pi FM transmission hack, and while this mod still doesn’t make it perfect, it’s always nice to see an awesome hack made even better.

Lamp Analysis Tells Sad Truth Behind The Marketing Hype

Here in the northern hemisphere, winter has wrapped us in her monochromatic prison. A solid deck of gray clouds means you need a clock to tell the difference between night and day, and by about the first week of February, it gets to feeling like you’ll never see a blue sky again. It’s depressing, to be honest, and the lack of sunlight can even lead to a mood disorder known as SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.

SAD therapy is deceptively simple — bright full-spectrum light, and lots of it, to simulate the sun and stimulate the lizard brain within us. Not surprisingly, such lights are available commercially, but when [Justin Lam] bought one to help with his Vancouver blues, he decided to analyze the lamp’s output to determine whether the $70 he spent paid for therapy or marketing.

The initial teardown was not encouraging, with what appeared to be a standard CFL “curly fry” light with a proprietary base in a fancy plastic enclosure. With access to a spectrometer, [Justin] confirmed that not only does the SAD light have exactly the same spectrum as a regular CFL, the diffuser touted to provide “full UV protection” does so simply by attenuating the entire spectrum evenly so that the UV exposure falls below the standards. In short, he found that the lamp was $70 worth of marketing wrapped around a $1.50 CFL. Caveat emptor.

Hats off to [Justin] for revealing the truth behind the hype, and here’s hoping he finds a way to ameliorate his current SAD situation. Perhaps one of these DIY lamps will be effective without the gouging.

Upgraded Hotel Room Coffee

The secret of cold-brew coffee is out. Department stores are selling gimmicks to make it at home or you can make it with a mason jar in good old-fashioned DIY style. This method is for the on-the-go hacker who may not have even the most spartan of equipment to brew a cold cup of Joe. Many hotel rooms are outfitted with a cheap percolating coffee machine and proprietary pods. The pods are just a sachet of filter paper with ground coffee inside.

Leave that percolating fire hazard unplugged and brew those pods overnight in a glass of water. In eight hours, you have a cup of rocket fuel. Compost the spent pod and away you go. Don’t heat your brew in the coffee maker, that’ll probably wreck it. Nuke it if you need it hot.

If coffee implements are your bag, here’s a 3D printed coffee bean grinder but be sure to read up on 3D printing and food safety. If coffee isn’t your cup of tea, how about a perfectly timed cup of tea?

Cleaning up a Low-Cost Buck-Boost Supply

Cheap DC-DC converters have been a boon on the hobbyist bench for a while now, but they can wreak havoc with sensitive circuits if you’re not careful. The problem: noise generated by the switch-mode supply buried within them. Is there anything you can do about the noise?

As it turns out, yes there is, and [Shahriar] at The Signal Path walks us through a basic circuit to reduce noise from DC-DC converters. The module under the knife is a popular buck-boost converter with a wide input range, 0-32 VDC output at up to 5 amps, and a fancy controller with an LCD display. But putting the stock $32 supply on a scope reveals tons of harmonics across a 1 MHz band and overall ripple of about 66 mV. But a simple voltage follower built from a power op-amp and a Zener diode does a great job of reducing the spikes and halving the ripple. The circuit is just a prototype and is meant more as a proof of principle and launching point for further development, and as such it’s far from perfect. The main downside is the four-volt offset from the input voltage; there’s also a broad smear of noise at the high end of the spectrum that persists even with the circuit in place. Centered around 900 MHz as it is, we suspect a cell signal of some sort is getting in. 900 kHz.

If you haven’t checked out the videos at The Signal Path, you really should. [Shahriar] really has a knack for explaining advanced topics in RF engineering, and has a bench to die for. We’ve covered quite a few of his projects before, from salvaging a $2700 spectrum analyzer to multiplexing fiber optic transmissions.

Continue reading “Cleaning up a Low-Cost Buck-Boost Supply”

Lock In Amplifiers

If you have about an hour to kill, you might want to check out [Shahriar’s] video about the Stanford Research SR530 lock in amplifier (see below). If you know what a lock in amplifier is, it is still a pretty interesting video and if you don’t know, then it really is a must see.

Most of the time, you think of an amplifier as just a circuit that makes a small signal bigger in some way — that is, increase the voltage or increase the current. But there are whole classes of amplifiers designed to reject noise and the lock in amplifier is one of them. [Shahriar’s] video discusses the math theory behind the amplifier, shows the guts, and demonstrates a few experiments (including measuring the speed of sound), as well.

Continue reading “Lock In Amplifiers”